Opinions divided over FIA porpoising directive

Drivers opinions are divided over FIA’s porpoising solution

While the general consensus among Formula 1 drivers is the FIA has done the right thing by address porpoising, not all agree with the specifics.

The sport’s governing body announced on Thursday that a new technical directive had been issued to F1 teams regarding the future management and monitoring of porpoising.

Concerns over the ride quality drivers have been subjected to came to a head at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix last weekend, with Lewis Hamilton in particular struggling to climb from his car at the end of the race.

In response, the FIA announced it will pay greater attention to the skid block under cars, which have a wear limit already enshrined in the regulations, while introducing a vertical acceleration limit within the cars.

While that is still being developed, exceeding that figure would effectively lead to a car being disqualified.

It also places the onus back on teams to ensure their cars comply, with all expected to be impacted in one way or another.

That’s due to the vertical acceleration figure being influenced by, among a raft of others, two key issues that have become prevalent under the 2022 technical rules; aerodynamic bouncing (porpoising), and bottoming out, a result of teams wanting to run the cars as low as possible to generate greater downforce.

It means even teams which suffer less from porpoising may be forced to raise the ride height of their cars to comply with the directive, not simply those observed to bounce at highspeed.

“I’m not a technical expert, so I don’t really know if that’s going to improve things or not,” opined George Russell, who was especially outspoken about the impact on drivers a week ago, of the change.

“But I think we definitely, as drivers, it’s good to see them [FIA] on the front foot and actioning something straightaway.

“What’s been brought forward this weekend, I think it’s probably more of a sticking plaster than the solution,” he added.

“We need to wait and see. I think for even the teams suffering the least, it’s still an incredibly aggressive and bumpy ride.

“The FIA have access to all the vertical acceleration loads we’re going through, and it’s far beyond what you’d expect is safe to deal with.

“Bigger conversations are definitely needed moving forward, and where we go from here.”

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc has been seen to experience porpoising for much of the season.

In that time he’s wracked up six pole positions and two races wins, and has claimed that porpoising has not been a big issue for him.

“I don’t completely agree,” Leclerc said of the directive.

“On my side, I felt like it’s the team’s responsibility to give me a car that is okay to drive and until now I didn’t have any particular problems with it.

“Yes, it’s different than last year’s car. Whether it’s undrivable or very hard on myself, I don’t think it is, or at least not personally.”

Fernando Alonso, the oldest driver on the grid, welcomed the move and suggested it was important the governing body get involved on behalf of the drivers.

“I think drivers, we seem to wanted to ask [for] some help from the FIA because obviously, from us, is difficult sometimes to go to our team and tell them to lose performance just because we have pain or whatever,” said the two-time championship winner.

“If they can do it for us, it’s better.”

There are also concerns of the long-term damage that may be done to the drivers physically should the situation have gone unchecked.

Hamilton has admitted he’s taking longer this year to recover from races, beyond he would have reasonably expected with advancing years.

“There’s a lot more bruising in the body after the races nowadays,” the 37-year-old said.

“It’s just taking most of the week, generally, to recover, and you have to do a lot more to do it.

“I don’t think that generally has anything to do with age, I think that’s just generally because the bruising can be quite severe.

“It’s interesting to hear from others drivers, I have empathy for the other drivers that have experienced it in the bad, bad way.

“When you’re experience 10Gs on a bounce, on a bump up to 10Gs, which is what I experienced in the last race, that’s a heavy, heavy load on the lower part [of the back], and the top part of your neck as well.”

There are those, however, who write that off an occupational hazard, likening it to the wear and tear athletes in other sports encounter over the course of their career.

”There are a lot of sports out there where I think you damage your body in general,” argued Max Verstappen.

“Once you retire from your career, you won’t be like you were when you were 20, that’s simply how it is.

“Football players have problems with their knees. All sorts of injuries when you’re a motocross rider, MotoGP rider, the amount of bones they have broken in their body…

“You can always judge, is that the safest thing to do? No, but we are willing to take risks. That’s our sport. That’s what I love to do, for sure.

“The porpoising we have at the moment, it’s not nice, and I don’t think it’s correct, but some teams are able to handle these things a lot better than others,” he continued.

“So it is possible to get rid of it, so I don’t think we have to overdramatise what is happening and the moment.

“We have a lot of smart people in this sport. We can get rid of these things.”

Verstappen’s position is at odds with that of his former team-mate, Daniel Ricciardo, who suggests the current issue is a risk over and above that typically associated with racing in Formula 1.

“I think it’s probably one of those ones where it is an unnecessary risk, you know,” the Australian said.

“That’s what we have to obviously answer.

“I think we take many risks getting in the cars every weekend and it’s part of what we love about the sport as well as going fast and putting it on the line and trying to balance on that fine line, risk and reward, but this one…

“Obviously what some drivers are experiencing, it’s not who’s the bravest, it’s you’re just going down the straight, holding it flat, and you’ve just basically got to hold on for the ride.

“So it’s a risk I guess out of our control, if that makes sense.”

The FIA is working to develop its formula for vertical acceleration during the opening two practice sessions in Canada this weekend.

That value will be fed into the FIA control unit, which can then be revised by scruitineers.

Moving forward, once a safe baseline figure has been establishing by the governing body, it’s believed teams will have a number of hurdles to clear when it comes to changing car set up.

Essentially, they’ll be unable to lower the ride height or revert to previously used setups without demonstrating that it is safe to do so.

There are some exceptions, surrounding tyre pressures, cooling needs, front flap adjustments, and changes to the weather.

Should a team be found in breach of the vertical acceleration limit, it will be forced to raise its car by 10mm.

However, as that is not possible during the race, a car in breach of the technical directive would be excluded from the results, something that could happen as soon as Sunday’s grand prix as the directive takes immediate effect.

Update: Since this article was published, the FIA has advised teams will not be penalised this weekend under the new directive though testing and analysis will continue ahead of its enforcement at future events.

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